By now most people in the creative world have heard about the new condos slated to go up at the corner of Market and Valencia where Flax Art and Design now stands. But don’t get your armature wire in a bundle, the iconic wooden mannequins aren’t disappearing, they’re just being repositioned. Even though the store is not going anywhere until at least 2016, some people are understandably upset about the upcoming change. I recently sat down with Howard Flax to chat about the company’s next step and he was solidly optimistic. “It’s going to be a challenge, but also a great opportunity," he said.
The 20,000 ft. art supply mecca is something of a novelty in a city where storefronts are popping up in spaces no bigger than a walk-in closet. Even more so when you consider the gold rush mentality of recent real estate developments. In the last two years, the intersecting corners near the store have seen an explosion of new housing construction.
Howard tells me the Fastframe store directly across the street from his shop is on its way to becoming a 43-unit condo. And one building half a mile from Twitter’s headquarters encourages potential tenants to “Indulge your desire to live in a comfortable and spacious apartment home at the nexus of San Francisco’s most authentic neighborhoods.” I’m not even going to get into the absurdity of that statement.
Uptown Almanac had some insightful opinions to impart on the proposed building at 1699 Market: “When developers initially filed a Preliminary Project Assessment with the Planning Department, they noted the ‘project was designed to be respectful to neighboring buildings by providing setbacks.’ And while the building may be ‘respectful,’ it is still damn ugly.”
The Flax family has been an integral part of the San Francisco art scene since 1938 and the shop on Market has been the flagship store since 1977. This kind of longevity is not coincidental: Flax has been voted Best in the Bay for 13 years in a row. The city’s creative heart and soul have allowed the business to flourish and Howard cites a “maker renaissance” as a major contributor to their ongoing success. This dedicated patronage has kept Flax going thus far, and it’s what is now allowing its owner to see this change as an opportunity for growth.
After touring a dozen different properties around the city, Howard and his team are confident that they will find a space with a Goldilocks fit to continue the 76-year legacy. Artists need supplies as much as chefs need ingredients, and in spite of the nay-sayers, I believe San Francisco will always be a home to artists. As Howard explained, “Art supplies are a commodity, regardless of change.”
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Vintage photo courtesy of Howard Flax